I remember Floyd saying that everyone was debating volume versus intensity, when the solution was simple: both. Sounds like Wiggins' philosophy too. Lots of volume, incredible amounts of time at race pace and beyond. (He says training is *harder* than racing!) No downtime, basically ever. Throw in plyo, weights, altitude, hell, throw in coming-of-age death matches with the local tribes. It's only tough "mentally".
I don't buy it. The thing is, the reason you typically have to choose between volume and intensity is that REST is also part of the equation, and you need that on both micro and macro cycles. Unless you're on the right drug protocols, something else the swimmers really had worked out.
I'll call my brother's idea here the sad law of limited training load. The sad law is simply a statement of the limits of human endeavor. We are not infinitely pliant. There is a limit to how much and what kind of training--that is, what Friel calls load--benefits the body. Training load unfortunately (rather, fortunately for our families and jobs) does not have constant rate of correlation with performance improvement. Increasing training load brings marginal improvement that looks something like this:If you read Friel, he says that most cyclists come to him already training *too much*, afflicted with chronic respiratory infections and fatigue, and they improve with structured training because it allows them enough rest to really hit their intensity goals. How to square that with the philosophy of more of everything all the time: volume, intensity, weights, plyo?
But at some point--and those of us with unlimited time and limited social lives are searching for this point--you hit your ideal training load point. After that ideal point you begin to experience marginal losses; i.e., once you've passed the ideal training load, for every additional hour you spend on the bike you experience a loss of power.
My brother's theme, if I get it right, goes further in stating that, whether you're riding hard or riding often, you have limits. You can't just go hard and go foreover. That would lead to injury.
The curve you see below illustrates this notion. It's called, in economics, a production possibilities curve, and it's used to explain tradeoffs in factory production, but it's also useful for understanding any limited choice--and in life, there are a lot of dismal trade-off choices one must make. Well, my brother says, in training to be fast, you have a limited amount of load you should place on your body if you want to improve: you can load it with several short, intense workouts, or you can load it with some long, less intense workouts, but at some point you'll only injure yourself (see below). The sad law...
There's no question that the sad law exists, and that it is a huge bummer, not only for those of us addicted to cycling, but because it applies to all areas of human improvement. The Armstrong EPO era was wonderful, in part, because it not only stretched what seemed possible within the confines of the sad law, it also raised the possibility that the sad law had been torn up and perhaps abandoned. Sadly, performance enhancing drugs and sublimity are ghastly opposites, but easily mistaken.
On the other hand, although we can say that it exists, we can't say where or when it comes into effect. This uncertainty is, I think, a wonderful thing. It means that we can always have hope for improvement, even if only a fool's hope.
I don't think this is lame. In fact, I've lately cast aside some of my more pessimistic feelings about the sad law. I've had questions. Questions such as...
- Isn't it strange how the extremely obese develop massively strong legs?
- How is it that Sherpas develop an incredible tolerance for altitude by living at altitude (without resting)?
- Why do gymnasts develop incredible strength by placing constant load, without rest, on their bodies?
- Isn't it interesting how anthropologists have discovered the world's largest human arm bones in pre-historic Aleuts whose constant paddling (and, perhaps, constant diet of pure fat and meat) gave them far stronger torsos than any living humans)?
And I've also gone back to the basics. Statistically, time spent on the bike remains the single biggest factor in improvement. All GC guys spend tons of time on the bike. Unless you're already averaging 20 hours a week, ride more--you'll probably get faster.
Because cyclists, even the most casual Cat 5s, do spend so much time on the bike there are an awful lot of different things we can do on the bike during the time we have. Take something like the 100m dash; top sprinters often spend more time doing supplementary exercises than sprinting. That's because sprinting places a huge load on the body. Cycling is far less taxing. When you turn the pedals 10,000 times a week, how you turn those pedals is hugely relevant to your progress.
This gets at my point about Wiggins. The biggest difference between Wiggins and his competitors, I'm guessing, is not that he's ridden more or less than his competitors, but that he's managed his time in the saddle better.
And the way he's done this, I'm somewhat speculating, is by adopting elements of reverse periodization.
The traditional approach to training requires, at first, longer intervals--some as long as two hours. These intervals gradually shorten as the mesocycle progresses. The reverse is true, I'm guessing, for Wiggins, if he has adopted elements of reverse periodization into his protocol. That is, his critical intervals--the ones he's using as his training benchmarks--have gotten progressively longer as the mesocycle progresses.
Wiggins has stated that he worked on explosive power in his base period. He also is being coached, as he said, by a swim coach, whose plan works sprinting and intensity into the base phase. It also includes long hours at slow tempo, in which the purpose of maximization of efficiency--not the development of so-called "aerobic fitness." And it also incorporates altitude training, which, by virtue of its thin air, requires the body to adapt to an oxygen-deprived environment (the idea is that this extra load leads the body to compensate by improving its oxygen-carrying and absorption system, but this is not exactly proven.) So, here's another element of Wiggins' training--improvement of efficiency.
This is not the same as the traditional base period, and its focus on what is called "aerobic fitness," a concept Tim Noakes has argued is fairly meaningless (great cyclists, for instance have VO2s ranging from the mid 60s ml/kg/min to the low 90s, a variance that suggests low, if any, correlation between the ability of the lungs to pump oxygen and the ability of the legs to perform).
VO2 max is interesting, but as a factor in cycling performance it's almost useless.
On the other hand, EPO works, so there's something to be said for having a good oxygen carrying system (even if having a good ability to take in oxygen and pump out CO2 for your weight isn't that important). So it isn't surprising that Wiggins has trained at altitude; it's his attempt to address what swimmers address through their focus on mechanical efficiency and their own training at altitude in Colorado Springs. Wiggins' goal, I'm sure, has been to raise his power at a given heart rate: how much power can my legs put out at a given constant peasure of exertion--heart rate? Raising the efficiency of his oxygen carrying system through altitude training was surely a part of this goal.
So far, we've addressed the following elements of Wiggins training:
- Why it is like a swim program.
- Why a reverse periodization protocol enables a cconstantly high level of race fitness
- Why Wiggins has used training, rather than racing, as the primary builder of fitness.
- Wiggins use of training for explosive power in his base period.
- Why Wiggins uses altitude training
- How Wiggins manages the huge volume of his rides.
We haven't yet addressed why Wiggins spends a lot of time climbing and in the heat. We'll do that in the next post.